This is my eleventh year teaching first grade and it has brought with it one of my most challenging students. Not a behavioral challenge, but rather a communication challenge. She has such severe speech impairments that those around her, including myself, do not know what she is saying; despite the hard work of her speech pathologist. It came to my attention that disorders affecting speech and language rank as the second most common reason students receive special education. As I write this blog, yes, she is being tested for special education services. These struggling children often perform poorly or insufficiently in school, they struggle with reading, have difficulty understanding and expressing language, they misunderstand social cues, miss school frequently, show poor judgement, and struggle with tests. As primary classroom teachers, it is often present in the classrooms, with the severity ranging. So, how can regular classroom teachers help these students achieve success not only academically but socially as well?
Learning takes place through the process of communication. The ability to participate in active and interactive communication with peers and adults in the educational setting is essential for a student to succeed in school. Some strategies teachers can try is:
*Use storybook sharing in which a story is read to student and responses are elicited (praise is given for appropriate comments about the content).
*Be near the student when giving instructions and ask the student to repeat the instructions and prompt when necessary.
*Use active listening. The teacher listens to the student and actively responds to what is being said by the student.
*Paraphrase back what the student has said or indicated
*Reinforce communication attempts (e.g. their gestures, partial verbalizations) when the student is non-verbal or emerging verbal.
*Ask open-ended appropriate questions. This will encourage a more articulated answer either verbally or written.
*Emphasize goals and tasks that are easy for the student to accomplish. Here, modified assignments will allow the child to feel successful and encouraged.
*Work at the student’s pace and expect only one concept be addressed at a time and build upon that outcome.
*Have speech therapist present language units to the entire class.
*Use computers in the classroom for language enhancement. There are many websites that will allow for the student to hear fluent reading, one being www.storylineonline.com
*Encourage reading and writing daily. What that will look like for each child is different and the teacher should accommodate for that.
*Incorporate vocabulary with unit being taught.
*Be aware of the student’s functioning level in auditory skills, semantics, word recall, syntax, phonology, and pragmatics (and how they affect academic performance).
The one strategy that I believe to be the most important is focusing on the student’s strengths as much as possible. While the little one I mentioned above struggles do to her understanding of communication and language, she is very good at math. I remind her of that daily and when math time arrives, she has a big smile on her face! Don’t forget to use your speech pathologist to your benefit. They are highly trained individuals who may have many suggestions to help support you and your students in the classroom.